For high schoolers, it’s the ultimate public display of affection: the “promposal.”
But the simple act of asking for a prom date has been turned into the social media ritual of going to the extremes. Promposal videos posted online show everything from sweet serenades to flash mobs featuring over-the-top choreography, to even one high school student getting presidential hopeful John Kasich to help her “prom-pose.”
The promposal stunts have gotten millions of views, shares and “likes,” but this quest for social media fame is leading some teenagers to lay out elaborate amounts of time and money in an escalating game of one-upmanship. And it’s not cheap.
The average promposal costs more than $300, according to Visa, and once you add the dress, flowers, limo and tickets, prom spending can easily top $1,000 or more per couple.
Logan Levkoff, a relationship expert and the author of “Got Teens?” thinks the promposal trend is fueled by social media.
“It’s not a surprise that teens would want to get elaborate with their first big romantic gesture,” Levkoff said. “That being said, in a world of social media where everyone likes and clicks on your promposal, it has definitely upped the ante for a lot of people.”
In Columbus, Ohio, Hilliard Bradley High School junior Capell Miller promposed with a handmade oversized theater ticket. His girlfriend McKenna Michel was starring as Maria in their school theater production of “The Sound of Music.”
During her final curtain call, Capell walked out on stage with the ticket and flowers and said, “Move over, Von Trapp, there’s a new captain,” in front of the cast and the entire audience. She said yes.
Although Miller said he only spent about $30, his girlfriend said she was impressed by how much thought he had put into it.
“Some promposals, they spend so much money, and something like this, it means a lot more,” McKenna said.
Preston Bacik, 17, planned a promposal that everyone loves to like. To ask his girlfriend Caroline Miller to the big dance, he rented a small plane and flew her over a neighborhood where he had written “PROM?” in chalk on the street.
“Everyone was coming up to me at school saying, ‘Thanks a lot, now ours aren’t as good,’” he said.
Caroline said, “I got 160 ‘likes’ on Instagram, which is crazy for me because normally I would get 100 max, something like that, so it was pretty cool.”
But as promposals get bigger and bigger, Levkoff cautions that it could add to the pressures of fitting in or wanting to be popular.
“I would want someone to do something big because they think the other person would adore it, they care about them and want this to be meaningful, rather than how many ‘likes’ they’re going to get on Facebook,” Levkoff said.
Not to mention the pressure to say “yes.” In one promposal YouTube video, the girl said “no” to the guy who asked her, and she was harshly criticized online in the comments section.
Teen blogger Jules Spector, 16, says in the era of “girl power,” promposals can end up being sexist.
“It’s a subconscious bias that the boy always has to ask the girl,” Jules said. “And I think that if a girl asked a guy it might warrant a different response from people.”
Leah Harper has been hunting for a prom dress ever since her boyfriend back-flipped his way into his promposal to ask her, and she got one for free through Operation Prom, a nonprofit that Noel D’Allacco started 13 years ago to help high school students offset the cost of prom.
“I think it [prom spending] is out of control with all the expenses you have senior year to begin with,” D’Allacco said. “You’re going off to college, you’re paying for college applications and then you pay for prom and it’s a ticket, a dress, limo; it’s getting out of hand.”
The organization gives away racks of dresses worth hundreds of dollars each donated from vendors like Macy’s and Ralph Lauren to girls who can’t afford to buy one or whose school counselors recommend them.
“I wish it [prom] didn’t cost so much,” D’Allacco said, “but again I think with social media and the competition of everyone trying to do something bigger and better every year, it’s almost impossible to kind of pull back now.”
So much so, D’Allacco added, that her organization might start getting into the promposal game to sponsor them so that the money students would spend on the promposal would go back to the students in need.